In Africa, French goes up the slope


In a classroom at a school in Rabat, Morocco, a student learns French through the words of a rhyme, the 31 January 2019.
In a classroom at a school in Rabat, Morocco, a student learns French through the words of a rhyme, the 31 January 2019. Youssef Boudlal / REUTERS

French is a party. That's how French Language and Francophonie Week is, including 24e edition will be held from Saturday 16 to 24 March in the 88 member countries and observers of the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF).

Writing workshops, oratory games, slam competitions, conferences, debates, exhibitions and meetings, everything is good to make French speak French and to speak French in order to "To stimulate the appropriation of the language" on the five continents that share 300 millions of speakers, dixit the website of the French Ministry of Education, creator and organizer of the event.

But if French continues to develop in the world, including Africa, it is also on this continent in competition with other foreign languages. Review of details.

  • French, 5e most spoken language in the world

Since 2014, French is growing in the world and has won nearly 23 million speakers, 10% in four years, according to the collective work of the OIF published Thursday 14 March The French language in the world 2019 (Ed Gallimard). This surge has allowed him to climb a podium by raising French to the fifth most spoken language in the world after Chinese (Mandarin), English, Spanish and Arabic.

This increase is particularly notable in Africa, which accounts for 59% of "Daily speakers of French" in the world, according to the book. It is also mechanical because coupled with the demographic explosion that should double the population of Africa 2050 horizon to 2 billion, according to UN figures, planning to spend at the same time a workforce 43% of French speakers on the continent at 67%. Especially since young people seem have already "Intensified their use of French in comparison with the generations that preceded them", points the OIF.

Lire aussi French, the fifth most spoken language in the world

On the continent, French is the third most spoken language with 120 millions of speakers after English (200) and Arabic (150). After that come, among others, Swahili (100), Amharic (30), Hausa (between 18 and 50), Yoruba (30), Oromo (25) and Ibo (24). Eleven African countries have chosen French as the exclusive official language, while eleven have adopted it in official use with one or more other languages.

"The center of gravity of the Francophonie continues to move south, extending a trend since 2010: 22,7 million "new" Francophones, 68% are in Sub-Saharan Africa and 22% in North Africa ", analyzes the authors of the book.

  • English, all categories champion

In total, 24 states and territories in Africa share the use of English in official or co-official languages. The language of Shakespeare is therefore the most spoken of the continent and one can imagine that its future, like the language of Molière, is also assured by the strong demography, although the vitality of the English-speaking countries is less than that of the French-speaking sub-Saharan zone.

Lire aussi In Rwanda, Swahili becomes the fourth national language

As for French, this linguistic situation is inherited from colonization. A photograph that is not engraved in marble. Rwanda, whose French had always been, alongside Kinyarwanda, the official language, decided in 2003 to add English and made 2010 the only language of public education.

Moreover, English, thanks to its relative ease of learning and the predominance of Anglo-Saxon culture in the economy and higher education, remains an unparalleled key to success.

  • Chinese, the underdog of charm

If Chinese is unsurprisingly the most spoken language on the planet with nearly 1,2 billion speakers, in Africa it remains very marginal. And this despite the rise of China on the continent and its massive investments, especially since 2000 and the first Forum on Sino-African Cooperation (Focac) in Beijing.

Lire aussi The seduction operation of the Confucius Institutes in Africa

This should not overshadow the charm operation launched by China since 2004 and the launch of its network of Confucius Institutes (IC), designed on the model of Alliances françaises and other British Councils, to promote the Chinese language and culture. in the world. At the end 2017, Beijing had invested the equivalent of 255 million euros to open 525 institutes, 1 113 classes in 146 country, boasting today of allowing 1,7 million people to study Mandarin since their implantation, excluding Chinese diasporas.

Lire aussi In South Africa, learning Mandarin is becoming widespread

Africa is not left out with 59 IC and thirty classes in 41 country, according to figures 2019 advanced by the site Hanban Institutes. Proof of its desire to spread China in Africa, Beijing had inaugurated its second Confucius Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, 2005, just after the first in South Korea the year before. In 2017, 150 000 Africans have enrolled in a Mandarin course and 2 500 cultural activity sessions have been delivered. Fourteen African countries have even incorporated Mandarin learning into their national education system, while 21 universities on the continent have created a Sinophone specialty.

Lire aussi China, new flagship destination for African students

The attraction of China is also in the other direction. In 2017 always, it is not less than 50 000 young Africans who left in the Middle Kingdom to make their return to university. According to figures from the Chinese Ministry of Education, the number of foreign students in China is increasing by more than 35% per year and one in ten foreign students come from the African continent. China is thus placed just behind France as a privileged destination for students on the continent. It must be said that Beijing rolls out the red carpet for these young people by distributing generous scholarships, multiplying more than 300 the number of African beneficiaries in ten years.

Sandrine Berthaud-Clair

This article appeared first on